Christmas in the Trenches

The members of the 20th Battalion, CEF were amongst the earliest volunteers for the First World War, many of who enlisted in September of 1914. They spent the next five Christmas’ away from their families, either training in Valcartier, PQ (1914), in France (1915-1917) or in Germany on occupation duties (1918).

Although the amenities provided to deployed soldiers at the time pales in comparison with what is available today, there were still efforts to make small improvements to the lives of those in the trenches. Some of these came through official channels (such as the rum ration), some from soldiers’ families (care packages), and some through organisations such as the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army deployed hundreds of volunteers to France, where they set up canteens and other facilities for the benefit of the soldiers. Because of their proximity to the front lines, they shared many of the dangers of the soldiers who they served, and were universally respected for their efforts.

One of the Salvation Army’s programs was the provision of a printing press for use in the creation of battalion newsletters. The 20th Battalion were an enthusiastic user of the printing press, and soon “The Twentieth Gazette” came into being for the enjoyment of the troops. It was priced at the very reasonable rate of 50 centimes, though it is unclear whether this simply covered the cost of printing or whether it raise funds for the battalion as well.

Being a relatively well-heeled Toronto Regiment, it is perhaps no surprise that in time the newsletter outgrew the Salvation Army’s simple press, and was being printed and distributed by Shaw & Sons of Fleet Street, London. The editor, Lieutenant Rainald Williams, was a solicitor in Toronto prior to the war, but took to this new task with enthusiasm. The newsletter contained a mix of news, jokes, poetry, short prose and drawings, all contributed by members of the battalion, and marked as having been censored by the Adjutant, Captain Jennings.

Although it is unclear how it was arranged, it seems that the gazette was not only distributed to the battalion itself, but also to its members who were in hospital in France or England as a means to keep them connected with their comrades.

An original copy of a number of editions of the Twentieth Gazette are held by both Library and Archives Canada and the Toronto Public Library. A reproduction of the Christmas, 1916 edition is attached here for your reading enjoyment.

20th Bn Journal Christmas 1916